PULLMAN — Eight minutes into his weekly news conference in Seattle, Washington coach Chris Petersen changed his vocal tone, tilted his gaze upward and, without abdicating his nice-guy persona, directed reporters to shift their line of inquiry.
“Apple Cup,” he said. “Move on. It’s time.”
Until then, all the questions had been about the Huskies’ surprising 20-14 loss at Colorado last week or their general lack of offensive mojo.
Interestingly, the exact opposite happened later Monday in Washington State coach Mike Leach’s news conference. Eight minutes passed before anyone alluded to the Cougars’ woolly 54-53 win last week against Oregon State. And it was Leach himself who did so. He said his team should have scored more points.
During the entire 30-minute session, the words “Oregon State” never were uttered.
The contrasting sets of questions reflect the differing moods of these teams, or at least their followers, as the Evergreen State psychs itself up for its annual intrastate rivalry game at 1 p.m. Friday (Fox) at Husky Stadium in Seattle.
Both teams are 6-5 overall and 3-5 in Pac-12 play. But the Cougars are buoyed by a thrilling victory and focused on winning their first Apple Cup since 2012, while the Huskies are stinging from a loss and wondering why they’re not lording over the Pac-12 North as usual.
Especially disorienting for the Dawgs’ self-image was their 32-yard rushing total against the Buffaloes, who made far better use of a bye week heading into the game than Washington did.
“It starts up front,” Petersen said. “When this team can’t run the ball, it’s going to be trouble. ... It’s very difficult to explain, because when you’ve got that much time (to prepare) and (Colorado’s defensive approach) is really not that different — you just got whipped up front. That’s hard to take.”
The Huskies went scoreless in the first half and fell behind 13-0. Petersen searched for the right word to describe his team’s response. “Panic” wasn’t quite right. But “it’s very unsettling, and there’s a tendency to press a little bit more. I think the good teams can just kind of shake it off and reload and go make a play. We haven’t been able to do that.”
Washington still is adjusting to the graduation of quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin, co-stars of a program that claimed two Pac-12 titles in three years and reached the national playoffs in 2016.
The Huskies are getting 91 rushing yards per game from Salvon Ahmed, but they want more consistency from a passing game led by 6-foot-6 junior quarterback Jacob Eason, who transferred from Georgia. Four times this year, UW has been held to fewer than 21 points.
No wonder Petersen wanted to talk about the Apple Cup.
Powerful defense, not offense, generally is how he defeats the Cougars, and the Husky defense has landed on their feet this season despite losing nine starters and five eventual NFL draft picks from last year. A pass defense, led by safety Myles Bryant, ranks second in the league.
The Dawgs have held Washington State to 17 or fewer points in all of their six straight Apple Cup wins, including five under Petersen. In the past three, Huskies co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake has rubbed it in during postgame interviews.
“We know that type of offense we’re playing,” he said of Leach’s Air Raid after a 28-15 victory last season in Pullman. “They do the same thing year in and year out. This is five years in a row now. So it makes it really easy to game plan.”
Cougars linebacker Jahad Woods was reminded of that remark this week.
“As far as Jimmy Lake saying what he had to say, I really don’t have any comment,” he said. “I’m a player trying to do my job. I’m not really into the dramatics and the WWE stuff that he says.”
Neither is Petersen, who ritually praises Leach’s offense and “gets a kick out of” the quirky man himself. He was asked if Leach would be as amusing if he started beating the Dawgs.
“No, he would not be,” Petersen said, laughing. “That’s the thing about it. There’s a lot of Cougars in this town, right? You see all the license plates and the flags and all that stuff. If you win, it doesn’t really bother you. If you lose, it bothers you for a long time.”
Not that he would know.
Grummert may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2290.